Believe you can and you’re halfway there.

Theodore Roosevelt

Stop letting prevalent myths about the starving artist and getting found mess you up.

It’s a tough road to follow to become a successful artist. It takes creativity, determination, vision, and business skills. You have to endure more criticism than other business owners do. But that’s part of being in the arts. Your work is on public display, and some make it their business to judge the value of your art.

I don’t know any artists who are starving.

I know some who feel like their careers are on a starvation diet due to lack of sales. The most prominent reason why art does not sell is that not enough qualified buyers see it.

If you don’t show it, you can’t sell it. It’s a numbers game.

Sometimes sales lag due to the quality of the work or materials, including framing is sub-par, or the pricing is off the mark. But, the most significant thing holding most artists back is they are not getting their work seen often enough.

Van Gogh did not cultivate the myth.

Many artists and consumers believe the myth of the starving artist is due to Van Gogh, who died impoverished and mentally unstable without attaining any success or fame. In death, he is a justified and revered icon.

Somehow, artists have fallen for the belief their work only matters if it is pure and created with no commercial intent. We can’t go back and ask Van Gogh, but I bet he would have enjoyed selling his work.

Blame the romantic starving artist myth on Henri Murger.

The starving artist myth came from Frenchman Henri Murger.  In his book, Bohemians of the Latin Quarter, he told glamorized tales of a group of struggling artists in 1851. They included a musician, poet, sculptor, painter, and philosopher living in the Bohemian quarter of Paris. Murger made his stories about the problems of finding food and shelter while striving for artistic success seem whimsical and romantic.

starving artist myth is bunk

Unfortunately, he did an excellent job because artists and others continue to buy into this romanticized myth of the starving artist. To me, it’s bunk. It’s the equivalent of thinking soap operas resemble real life.

In life, you don’t always have a choice. In your career, you do.

You did not get to decide the circumstances of where you were born, who your parents are, and much more. You have the choice to take control of your career and direct it to the success you desire.

No one is stopping you, except you.

One of the most common problems I see is artists getting in their way. They cling to weird notions of the starving artist syndrome. Or choose wishful thinking instead of decisive action. They dream of Getting Found while their successful counterparts follow this advice:

Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work. ― Chuck Close

There are modern day myths about getting found.

Yes, there are modern-day mythical stories of artists who got found and great fame seemingly without a struggle. Here is a quote from on the meteoric rise of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s career:

From a troubled but well-off Brooklyn family — his dad, a wealthy accountant, owned a building on Pacific Street where the family lived, and Jean-Michel was a Junior Member of the Brooklyn Museum at six — Basquiat rose to fame at the time of the art world’s brief and fraught infatuation with graffiti, the major cultural form of New York in the bankrupt ’70s.

Basquiat, however, was never really part of the Bronx-based graffiti scene, and his street works were aimed squarely at Soho, which is to say, at gaining the attention of the mainly white downtown creative set. It worked.

He went from making offbeat text-based street art as SAMO to selling out gallery shows for hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a two short years at the beginning of the ’80s. He would date Madonna, hang out with Warhol, and become a human symbol of ’80s money’s coked-up infatuation with art (literally in the case of the infamous “New Art, New Money: The Marketing of the American Artist” cover story for New York Times Magazine).

Basquiat’s examples are fun to learn about but damaging to believe fame and fortune are every days for artists. Unfortunately, there is not enough of that kind of luck to go around. The only luck you can reliably count on is the luck you make for yourself.

Besides, Basquiat was a consummate hustler who lived in the right place at the right time for him to scheme to make and promote his art, not exactly like the lives of artists I know today.

The harder I work, the luckier I get. – Samuel Goldwyn

The comeback to reality from such quaint notions about getting found is neither you nor anyone you know can count on the sudden appearance of an unexpected benefactor. There is irony for those who suffer from the Getting Found benefactor syndrome. It is the most predictable outcome for them is an art career starving for sales and attention.

The Starving Artist Myth and the Getting Found Fantasy Are Interwoven and Persistent.

Stories like those of Basquiat’s career arc continue to feed the myths and mess up the thinking of many artists. Basquiat must have had hundreds of thousands of contemporaries who yearned for success like his. For them, it never happened.

Working smart and hard works wonders!

A more realistic plan is one where you seize control of your career. Rather than dreaming, you make it very probable to succeed when you execute a reasonable, achievable goal. When you turn the idea of getting found into one of you taking charge and making actions, you will find your success and find your buyers. You will gain tremendous power. It’s like taking an atrophied muscle and working and pumping it until it meets its potential.

How do you boost your career?

You start by accepting you are in charge of what happens in your career. You can’t leave this to anyone else and never to chance. You then determine what it is you want from your career.

It’s truly about what you want. Get this right to live right.

ladder of success

Until you have a firm grasp on what you want from your art career or business life as an artist, you are going nowhere. You can use the best tools and be an intelligent marketer who uses them skillfully. Without a vision to guide you to what you want from your career, you’ll be going nowhere fast.

Before you climb the ladder of success, make sure you have leaned it against the right wall.

There are no bad choices. It’s personal and only about what you want.

You can decide you want a career as a professional artist. You should earn enough from selling art and other things such as workshops, leading art tours, or writing books.

You can decide you are happy to earn a part-time income from your art sales to cover your art supplies and incidental expenses of a serious art hobby.

You might choose to sell your art to earn income for retirement, travel, or supplement your full-time job income. It’s your choice, and it’s all good no matter what you choose.

The power in explaining what you want to yourself.

Knowing what you choose is okay, and explaining it to yourself and others is your jumping-off point. Pursuing success when you lack a clear vision of what success means doesn’t work. Start with clear goals — ones that are attainable, and challenge yourself with an extra set of stretch goals.

Until you can clearly state what you want from your career, it’s a waste to start marketing your art. – Barney Davey

Once your goals are set and clear, you can begin to work on meeting them. If you want to gain recognition and sell more of your art, you’ll want to make plans to find and connect with buyers, galleries, and distribution channels.

A network of buyers, galleries and distribution channels is the bomb!

Your success will come from building, nourishing, and replenishing your growing network of customers and distribution channels, including galleries.  You will find it so helpful to include working on these things in your daily activities. Unfortunately, you can’t leave getting these things done to chance. For sure, you can’t wait until you feel like working on them.

Dr. J being a professional

Having discipline in making your art and marketing gives you the best odds of creating the success you desire. So let’s just put doing necessary things in the “Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy” category even at the times you don’t feel like it.

You can get 100 collectors or more. They will bulletproof your career.

I believe developing 100 or more direct buying collectors is the best thing an artist can do to strengthen their career. However, one cannot overstate the power of a personal one-to-one relationship with someone who likes you and likes your art.

Blasting through your comfort zone to success.

For some artists, the idea of networking, whether in person or online, to meet collectors is a challenging one. The thought of it stresses them out. I have three words for those in this situation, “Get over it!” That’s not being harsh. It’s real. The reality is, as mentioned above, you have a choice.

You can choose to put yourself into situations out of your comfort zone. For your career to flourish, you must make concessions to feelings about doing uncomfortable things. I suggest having a soul-searching conversation with yourself.

Honesty and heartfelt note-to-self works wonders.

Acknowledge that part of you that wants to recede and avoid working on networking. Accept that feeling uncomfortable, even painfully so, is the main reason you don’t want to do networking. Then tell yourself, and emphasize to the reluctant and potent part of you, that you and your reluctant self are going to have to learn to live with it.

The dread is worse than the do.

What you’ll find once you put on your professional artist pants and get out there is that your anticipation of how awful taking such decisive action to further your career was way more than actually doing it.

You can do almost anything if you want it enough, excluding physical limitations. No amount of trying will ever let me dunk a basketball. But I can likely become an excellent shooter and dribbler if I work hard enough on it.

You can learn to mingle online and offline with potential collectors. You will probably find it’s pretty pleasant once you get started. For example, in the Art Marketing Toolkit Project (AMTP), you learn to do this without ever going to some useless Chamber of Commerce meeting or its equivalent.

How to Grab Success and Forget about Getting Found – Part Two

There is more to this discussion that we’ll cover in Part Two. You can subscribe here. You’ll get a notice when it publishes. We covered how getting found is not a plan. So, what to do now?

It Works Better for You to Find Customers.

Let’s turn this concept inside out. Instead of hoping to get found, do the opposite and start finding buyers and collectors. We’ll break down ideas on different ways to do that in Part Two. Stay tuned.


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    • Hi too. Funny . I just painted a piece ,it tells a story and vangogh and I leave the starvation path and become light bodies. I like to rewrite the. endings and now I will invent my 100 collectors.

  • You’ve said the formula and a primary path. Your consistent publications are always a reminder and call to action. Every time I read your blog I think again… oh, of course, this is the way. The point is now turn this into real discipline. Thank you for your constant advice and the resources you share with us.

  • Interesting article. Do you think the same approach works for photographers aiming to find buyers for framed prints of their work?

    • Yes, I think this approach will work to find and cultivate repeat buyers for any type disposable income item. It’s about making relationships with people. Get on the KNOW LIKE TRUST continuum. It sure beats trying to sell to strangers. 🙂

  • Debra Link says:

    Exactly what I have been needing to hear for years!

  • Thank you for this extensive advice! I’m new at Fine Art America and I was just thinking it’s going to be tough to get more attention among the thousands other artists. You are right on! We have to go out there to grab the attention!

  • As always, Barney’s straight from the shoulder advice is spot on. The key is in Roberto’s comment. You can read all of Barney’s 600 blogs but if you don’t step out of your “comfort cage” and have the discipline to follow his advice your hundred collectors will remain an invention of your imagination , as in Barb’s story. The problem with “invented collectors” is their bank accounts are imaginary, too. Barney’s books and his Art Buyers Workshop are investments in your career that will pay pay dividends long term.
    For a quick read “minibook” take a look at my How Do You Spell $UCE$$? just up on Amazon for .99.

  • J Vincent says:

    Your article reaffirms the very thing s I have not disciplined myself to do. Perhaps now is the time for me to get into the fray. Thank u

    • Thanks for sharing! Sounds like an exciting, brave move. All the best for great success with your move and your career!

  • Thanks for making your thoughtful insights so available. I’m finally ready to practice them.

    • Thanks Ann for your kind comment. It’s more than a pleasure. It’s a passion project for me working with artists.

  • Art is a very subjective field to endeavour into.
    Sometimes you sell something quickly and others times you can’t give your art away.

    Great article.


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